Everyone knows about that special “glow” a woman has when she’s expecting, but pregnancy isn’t all good news when it comes to your skin. Hormones are raging through your body, and a number of skin conditions can develop. Even topical treatments can be absorbed into your system – and the baby’s – so skin care during pregnancy requires special attention. Discuss all the cosmetic and skin care products you currently use, including makeup, with your obstetrician or health care provider.
Cleaning, Moisturizing & Sunscreen
Use a gentle, unscented cleanser on your face and body, and don’t wash your face more than twice a day, to keep your skin from getting too dry. Use an oil-free moisturizer with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 that blocks both UVA and UVB sun rays. Read labels carefully; during the first trimester you should avoid all skin care products with chemical exfoliants and which contain salicylic, glycolic and alpha and beta hydroxyl acids. (Ask your health care provider about using them later on in your pregnancy.) When you go out, remember to apply sunscreen. Wearing sunscreen outdoors is always a smart choice, whether or not you’re pregnant. Commercial sun blockers, even those that penetrate the skin, are safe for use during pregnancy. Be sure to reapply sunscreen after a few hours outdoors.
Acne and Oily Skin
The most common skin care problem for pregnant women is acne – this is especially true for women with naturally oily skin who’ve had pimple problems since adolescence. Many hormonal changes occur during pregnancy, stimulating oil glands and increasing the skin’s production of oil. Use oil-free cleansers and moisturizers. Do not use conventional over-the-counter or prescription acne treatments, as these can potentially harm a fetus. Avoid all products with retinoids (including Accutane), a form of vitamin A that in high doses can be harmful to unborn children. Also stay away from salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, oral antibiotics and chemical exfoliants. Check with your obstetrician to see which products are safe to use, or ask about topical prescription antibiotic creams and lotions.
Pregnant women often complain of dry, itchy skin, not just on the face, but all over their bodies. Body fluids which would normally provide moisture to skin are instead being directed to the needs of a developing fetus. Use a moisturizing soap when washing and bathing, and take short, lukewarm baths and showers. Generously apply fragrance-free moisturizer from head to toe. Stay away from anti-itch treatments that contain cortisone or hydrocortisone. Instead, use a gentle ointment like calamine lotion. If itching persists or blisters, consult with your health care provider. Another thing you can do for dry skin is drink a lot of water, which will help keep your skin hydrated. (Of course that will also make you have to urinate more, which is already an issue when you’re pregnant … sorry!) When you’re indoors, well humidified rooms will also be helpful.
Melasma (Pregnancy Mask)
Pregnant women are often surprised to discover dark patches of skin on their face. Some women also notice darkening around their nipples and elsewhere. Melasma, also called chloasma or “pregnancy mask”, is caused by pregnancy hormones and can be aggravated by even limited amounts of sun exposure. When you go outdoors, use a sunblock with a high SPF (even on a cloudy day) and also consider a wide-brimmed hat, big sunglasses and even protective clothing. Avoid soy-based lotions and facial products, which have estrogenic components that can worsen melasma’s darkening effects.